Passionless

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Shouting match erupts as Pennsylvania lawmakers debate welfare bill (abc13.com)
Nancy Pelosi Is Listening to the Wrong People (Esquire via Yahoo! News)
Hey, Democrats: Stop Being Polite (Huffington Post via Yahoo! News)

After the Republican wave election in 2010, new Republican majorities in a lot of state houses were quick to use their power to push through extremely right-wing legislation, covering everything from budgets to social policy, for a lot of new Republican governors to sign. Trying to determine which state got hit the hardest by these attacks is probably pointless, but even if Michigan wasn’t the home of my parents (and my spiritual home), and I hadn’t been living less than three miles south of the Great Lakes State at the time, it’s hard to ignore the wide-ranging disasters that sprouted from the expansion and abuse of the Emergency Manager laws in the state. (By the way, Flint still doesn’t have clean water.)

If another state’s new Republican government caught my eye nearly as much as Michigan’s, though, it was Wisconsin’s. Setting aside Scott Walker’s buffoonery for the time being, when Wisconsin’s legislature became one of the first to ram through one of those forced-vaginal-ultrasound-for-abortion-patients bills, the Republican leader of the Senate here got national attention for one of his trademark gasket-blowing performances as he tried to silence someone who spoke up in opposition to the bill, demanding parliamentary procedure be followed and just generally screaming his head off. Those of us who find humour in the fistfights that break out in other countries’ houses of governance probably thought that Michael Ellis’ performance was tame by comparison, but looking back at it now, maybe that was a harbinger of what was about to happen to American politics writ large as a result of these far-right maniacs.

When I first saw video of Jake Corman’s screaming last week, the Michael Ellis incident from a few years ago came right back to the forefront of my mind, in part because, you know, I live in Wisconsin now and all. (Ellis died last year, but I swear I can still hear echoes of his screaming in the valleys here on quiet nights like tonight.) The Corman video wasn’t nearly as much of a shock to me as the first time I listened to Ellis flip his lid, but American politics has kind of changed a lot in the last few years, if you haven’t noticed. I’m not a parliamentarian, so I’m not about to offer commentary on the validity of what made Corman and Ellis start yelling their heads off, but let’s just assume for a moment that they had legitimate complaints about deviations from documented procedure in their state houses, and that their passions for following rules are well-rooted in a sincere concern for keeping the mechanisms of governance well-oiled and operating the way that they were intended to be.

Let me just ask this: When was the last time you saw an elected Democratic official — not a protester, but someone actually in office — show that kind of passion for the children being held in cages and dying on our southern border?

My fears of Democrats continuing to be capitulating cronies of capitalism-loving neo-liberals in the wake of the 2016 election were confirmed soon after Trump’s inauguration, when they answered his first joint address to Congress with an old, white, southern male centrist (at best), speaking in front of a contrived backdrop full of nothing but white people. At a time when everyone to the left of Joe Lieberman was desperate for a sign of strong resistance to the new administration and the sweeping changes already taking place in our country, the Democratic Party sent a very clear signal to all of us: No matter how radical or awful the Republican Party was becoming under Donald Trump, Democrats would continue to be the Party of Compromise, no matter how far right those compromises pulled the party, and no matter who got hurt as a result. If you need further evidence of that, look no further than Democrats’ friend Chris Matthews taking his MSNBC show this year to even more old white centrists and portraying them as “The Deciders,” the people who will determine who wins the presidency in 2020. All those people on the left, the ones more likely to be suffering the most from what has happened to America these past few years? They just don’t matter to the power base of the Democratic Party.

We saw how disastrous this “hold the centre” strategy is for Democratic presidential candidates in the last cycle. At a time when it felt like new cell phone videos of police officers killing unarmed African-Americans were being uploaded to YouTube on a weekly basis, Hillary Clinton took “Black Lives Matter” and turned it into little more than a toothless applause line in her campaign speeches, without even the slightest hint of a plan to address the systemic racism in this country that underlied not just those videos, but also the rash of hate crimes that have exploded in the era of Trumpism. At a time when the #MeToo movement was shining much-needed light on not just the sexual victimization of women but the very concept of equal justice itself, the presence of Hillary Clinton’s husband on the campaign trail stuck out like a giant asterisk to that hashtag: “It’s never okay to take sexual advantage of young women, and the people who perpetrate these assaults should go to jail and never be seen or heard from again … unless, you know, we have warm and fuzzy feelings about your presidency.” Say what you will about how President Obama governed while he was in office (I certainly have), but he certainly ran for office farther to the left than any other Democratic presidential nominee this century, and he’s the only one who’s actually won the Electoral College. Despite all that, though, so many Democrats are trying to stuff Obama’s friend, “good ol’ Uncle Joe,” down our throats as the party’s only chance to win back the White House in 2020.

The Democratic Party is either incapable, or unwilling, to see how self-destructive this strategy is. The poor African-American woman who lives down the street from the city’s last abortion clinic may not want to see that clinic get closed down at the hands of Republican legislators, but until the systemic racism that prevents her from getting a well-paying job is addressed, it really doesn’t matter to her if that clinic closes down because she can’t afford to go there anyway. The retired couple on the outskirts of suburbia might appreciate something being done about runaway prescription drug prices so they can afford their medications more easily, but they’re not going to feel compelled to vote for a Democratic presidential candidate who doesn’t think that all of their children should have good-quality health care. The young college graduate living in a downtown apartment might want Net Neutrality restored to guarantee affordable, uncensored access to a spectrum of information on the Internet, but if they have to keep working three jobs in order to keep a roof over their head, then they won’t have the time to appreciate access to all that information.

I wish I could say that I was surprised by most Democrats’ response to the human rights crisis going on at our border right now, but really, it’s just in step the Democratic Party’s stultifying neo-liberalism. All they care about is making money, and when they got the opportunity to make even more money by getting in bed with conservatives to gut this country’s public education system under the damnably false banner of “reform,” they were all too happy to do so, and we see the results now. A generation of young people who were never exposed to recent world history during their schooling are now unable to see the grim historical parallels between the darkest era of recent human existence and today. Democrats didn’t give a damn how American children were hurt, as long as their campaign coffers kept filling up. Why should we expect them to feel any differently about other countries’ children, unless it’s to use them as a tool for their putrid political games? Oh, we’ll certainly see lots of pictures of those caged kids in next year’s presidential campaign videos, but will whoever the Democratic nominee is actually have a plan for making sure that those kids don’t have to flee the mass violence in their home countries in the first place?

This isn’t a time to get into a long discussion about the intelligence (or lack thereof) of Donald Trump, but it’s clear that he knows how to exploit the Democratic Party’s refusal to address the needs of the left. Ramping up the possibility of our country going to war with Iran and/or Venezuela is a cunning tactic designed to get just enough centrist Democrats, in particular the ones who get big campaign donations from weapons manufacturers, on his side, and repulse all of us on the left who have already seen far too many innocent civilians murdered by the American war machine in our lifetimes. Trump’s attack on homelessness last week will appeal to upper-class liberals who, like Republicans, experience homelessness as little more than a aesthetic nuisance in their lives, and not the most glaring symptom of this country’s growing economic inequality problem. It’s those Democrats who are most likely to be okay with more war on vulnerable people abroad and at home, or at least the Democrats who will never raise a big stink over it, who are the ones most likely to be on the party’s presidential ticket in 2020, and then the left will stay home on Election Day, or they’ll vote for a Green Party or socialist candidate, and Trump will be re-elected (possibly even with the plurality of the popular vote this time), and Democrats will wonder what went wrong. It’s happened before, and the inevitability of it happening again in 2020 seems to grow with each each passing day.

If Democrats want to avoid that fate, then they have got to do a hell of a lot more to make sure that they get enthusiasm for the left a lot higher than it is right now. As it is, though, the leading candidate for their presidential nomination is a guy who just said that he has “no empathy” for those young people most likely to be in that base, who are more likely to be the victims of things like chronic unemployment and underemployment, who are more likely to be unable to build any kind of personal economic base to give their lives the slightest hint of stability, and who will experience more of the pending global climate catastrophe than the older Democratic Party power base ever will. Immigrant children are being held in cages (and dying from neglect) on our soil, hate crimes against the most vulnerable of us are exploding, and the planet is literally teetering on the edge of a climate meltdown unless strong action is taken soon, and Democrats want everyone to just shut up and smile at Joe Biden’s whimsy.

I want to think that something will happen to give this country a much-needed case of whiplash soon. I want to think that the changes necessary to save not just America but the world — whether it’s the Democratic Party finally realizing the need to encompass all of the left, or the Green Party supplanting the Democratic Party and taking power throughout the country, or something other than the fast-track to imminent destruction we’re on right now — will come, and it will come quickly. How can any of us be expected to feel like that’s even remotely possible, though, when we’re told that even the sight of poor and starving children being locked in cages (and even dying) on the Mexican border isn’t something to get as worked up over as some Republicans get about parliamentary procedure not being followed? How can people believe that Democrats will fight for them when they won’t even fight that hard to protect innocent children being mistreated in this country’s name? What does that say about the Democratic Party? More to the point, what does that say about us as a country?

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